Illustration of Tuang child

1925 Tuang child

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Raymond Dart primatology Illustration of Tuang child

Tuang child

The fossil from the lime mine at Tuang was the first remains of Australopithecus africansus found, the skull of a child in a box of bones of monkeys, hyraxes, and gazelles given to Raymond Dart who chaired the anatomy department at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Dart realized that the skull was evidence of an early previously unknown human-like hominid, and for over twenty years Dart’s claims were disregarded because he was not part of the scientific community.

Rare and strange

Australopithecus africansus lived between two and three million years ago, during the Lower Paleolithic. The skull of the Tuang child was found in a breccia-filled cave that blasting at the limeworks had exposed. Bones of this species are rare, having been found only at Taung, Sterkfontein, Makapansgat, and Gladysvale in southern Africa. The fact that evidence has survived is strange; that anyone found it is strange; that Dart understood its significance is also strange.


The brothers and sisters of Jesus are those who love him, so we make our family by loving others. Extinct and precious creatures— Cambrian oddities, Archaeopteryx, Neanderthals, and the Tuang child —are my lost children. Birds of all sizes— gold finches and sparrows, egrets and kestrels —are my brothers and sisters. I love all baby animals; I love flowers that wither in the hot sun; I love stray cats and squirrels; I love whales; I love trees, salmon, bears, wolves, and deer; I love spiders that others step on; I love suicides and victims of violence; I love those who are lost in their heads; I love hungry children and I love parents who go hungry for their children. These are all family to me.

Some think that Au. africansus was a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens sapiens; others think that it more likely evolved into Paranthropus robustus, which is not in our direct line. Biological altruism should extend to all life on Earth because we all share a common genetic inheritance.

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